Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 7 - Monkeys and Hot Water

Today's agenda takes us to the Arenal Hanging Bridges and the Eco Termales hot springs so after a nice huge breakfast including what Dave is calling lasagna eggs, some weird spaghetti sauce fried egg mixture that actually tasted pretty good, we head out for the bridge hike. On the ride over we debate about getting a guide. It's not that I don't want to pay for one and I know that they can often show you things you might not see yourself and tell you some interesting facts but we decide that we are patient enough to look for many things and not just walk by everything and of all the interesting things most guides have told us in the past, I hardly remember any of it. So, without a guide we slowly head into the park which consists of a fairly easy trail with about 10 or so different bridges, some of them hanging as the name indicates. Immediately we are crossing our first bridge and on a nearby tree we see a bright yellow snake which Dave thinks is a viper, that is all bundled up on a limb. It's hard to tell how long he really is but he is thin and his tail wraps around underneath the branch. I'm always fascinated and scared to see snakes but he is quite a distance away that I don't have to worry. Through our walk we also see many interesting plants and trees but not so many flowers so every time I saw a flower it seemed to stand out so much. But back to our animal discoveries, we saw many butterflies including the amazingly beautiful Blue Morpho but they are too fast for me to take a picture so I just enjoy them flying around us. A couple of bird species that we see are the blue-crowned Motmot which has very pretty tail feathers and a Rufous-tailed Jacamar with a beak like a hummingbird. Oh yeah, we also see a couple of centipedes mating?? So, after nearly an hour and a half of walking around and seeing some things we still have not seen any monkeys which is really why we came. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I see some movement. I tell Dave and we look up to see a mommy and baby howler monkey. The baby is sooooo cute and just playing around mama, jumping on her and seeming to have so much fun. Down and to the left we see what must be daddy as he is larger and watching us through the trees. There seem to be a few above us too and then it begins, the barking type noise they make that shakes the jungle with the sounds. It was a good find and without much time to spare as 10 minutes later we were out of the park.
Next we are on to Eco Termales hot springs. This is a small family run place that has about 4 tiered hot spring pools with each one hotter the closer you get to the top waterfall where the water is feeding in. Standing under the main waterfall and getting a water massage is so relaxing and after this and a cold cerveza it seemed time for a nap. Because it is low season and it was in the afternoon (most places are busier at night), we had the place to ourselves for at least an hour, then a crew showed up to do a photo shoot with a bunch of girls in what looked like wedding attire. I wonder how many pictures Dave and I are in...heheee!
Not much more to say here except that after just about four hours we force ourselves to leave.
A quick bite on the way back at Toad Hall (touristy, but decent food) and then we are back in time for some cervezas and a world series win!!!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 5 & 6 - Travel and Fishing

I hadn't planned on making much of a comment about our travel day because other than driving 6 hours from Cahuita on the Caribbean side to the central area of Nuevo Arenal, I didn't think there'd be much to say. This day however was a test in patience. The drive began at 8:00am but the test began about 1 1/2 hours out of Cahuita on route 32 when the traffic was completely stopped. When I say stopped, I mean that on this little one lane each way, main road between central points of the country, cars were turned off, people were out of their cars, and locals were riding by on their bikes selling hielo (pops) and papas fritas (potato chips). Policia drove by, ambulancia drove by, a tow-truck and a flat bed truck drove by and we sat in the same spot for nearly 90 minutes. When we began moving it was ever so slowly over the last 40km of route 32. Aside from just sitting there, I was also concerned as the arrival time of our destination on the GPS getting creeping later and later. The advice in CR is not drive at night as some roads are not too good and potholes seem to come out of nowhere and the road to our hotel was just washed out a week ago so I knew we would not be attempting that in the dark which quickly comes about 5:30. So what started as a 1:30 arrival was soon at 3:00, then 3:30 then 4:00 and we haven't had a bathroom or food break yet...yikes! Finally off the 32, there is a break from gridlock and we start to move smoother. We never did see a point indicating where there was an accident but we did see the tow-truck and the flat-bed on the side of the road, not assisting any vehicle??? For convenience sake, we spot a Burger King, which doesn't sell burgers but only chicken items and we get something to go, use the bathroom and get back on the road. Our arrival time is now about 4:20 and we feel good about that, until that is, we find ourselves behind the damn slow pineapple truck!!!! While you can pass, you have to pick your spots because the road is curvey and the pass areas are not always frequent. Finally we are past him, smooth sailing for awhile and our destination time is 4:45.........but it is not over yet, there is one more pineapple truck to conquer and then we master the curvey road around Lake Arenal to the Gingerbread Boutique just about 5:00....whew.
We do drive into town which is just a few minutes down the road and have a pizza at Moya's which is very good and just enough. We head back to our room, relax and watch the Sox win game 5.
The next day we wake up just after 5:00 to go fishing on the lake with Captain Ron. The day is nice, there is a cool breeze most of the morning and while it rains slightly in the morning, it is not cold at all. Fishing is a bit tough but I do get a couple of machaca to the boat and one guapote ties me up around a tree stump and we eventually have to cut the line and let him go...damn, he felt like a good one too. Dave has a much tougher time. He has several fish hit at his bait but none of them seem to really take it and hang on so for most of the morning he is playing hit and run with the fish. I do get one small guapote in the boat and I think it is the only picture we got all morning too. Just towards the end Dave gets a couple of really good hits and actually brings in a couple of machaca, one that gets off just at the boat and one that jumps in the boat. While not a ton of fish, it was a great morning to be on the water and Captain Ron is a great guide and person, it was great getting to know him and we loved the banana bread that his neighbor made...yummy.
For lunch we go to Tom's German Bakery and get sandwiches that are as big as our heads and filled with everything from lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, red peppers and corn. Dave's is ham and cheese while I get the bratwurst, all on freshly baked bread. Good thing it is early or we wouldn't have any room for dinner later!
This afternoon we walked around the small town, went in some stores to see what type of things they have and what the costs are. Trying to get a comparison when I realize that I don't know how much a spigot would cost me at home so how do I know if 5,000 colones is too much? Still, we can tell that some things are comparable, some a bit more and many more are less expensive so one could,d probably get by much cheaper here. Besides, it is obvious that people here are not yet possession obsessed as we are in the states. I wonder if I will be able to change my habits?
Dinner was at our hotel and our host Eyal is known for his cuisine and we are not disappointed. We start with the blackened tuna salad and the mussels appetizers and both were more than enough to sufficiently fill us so we opt to share a dessert and we are done. The salad is a mound of freshness with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, peppers, onions, yucca all topped with the blackened tuna, sesame seeds and an amazing light dressing. I have never had a salad that tasted so good or left me more satisfied. Maybe next time we'll actually get to the entrees which looked amazing as well.
For tonight we need to get some sleep as tomorrow we have a big day planned at he hanging bridges and the hot springs!!!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 3 & 4- Cahuita National Park and relaxing

For day 3 our agenda is to visit the Cahiita National Park which preserves both land and sea areas and a huge reef surrounding the park. One can only snorkel here with a guide so we meet Kenry at 8:30 by the police station and go over to his boat. He has us wait while he goes to find the rest of the group and wouldn't you know it, Dave looks up and sees a sloth in the tree right above us.
Kenry comes back with the rest of our tour, eight in all, and we head out to the reef. A short ride later, we jump in the water and immediately see a lion fish. For those who don't know, lion fish as absolutely beautiful but they are also very poisonous so it is a joy and a bit scary to see them in the wild. Because they are poisonous, they have no known predators and have been taken over the waters of the Caribbean. Some places have gone as far as having lion fishing tournaments to try and catch them and they say that they are great eating, though we are yet to discover that. After that it is most of the same type of fish and coral that we have seen in other places but there is a lot of it and we make three different stops along the way which gives us different views of it all.
After our snorkel, Kenry drops us off at the point of the national park and we walk back on our own. Dave sees a monkey but he is too high in the trees to get a good picture. Then suddenly there is a rustle to our left, Dave looks and says, "Look it's a snake" it takes me a while but it is exactly like the snake described by the local: long, skinny and a small head. I wonder if others will see it too!!!
 I get a couple pics while he moves around and readjusts a bit in the branches. A native tells us that he's always there and that there is a big snake in the area too. He says he doesn't know the name but it is about 4 feet long, very skinny with a really small head. It's not poisonous but he doesn't like it just the same.
Once we head back we have lunch at the Reggae Bar and hit the pillows for a nap. For the night we eat at Rick's in town which is good and catch a little of the baseball game. Did I mention that our room does not have a TV? Oh well, looks like we didn't miss much as the Sox lost again.
There's not much to say about day 4 except that we drove around, hit the beach, went to the pool, went to the Reggae bar and met another couple that recently retired to Costa Rica. I drilled the husband about where they live and how they went about things and got some good info from him.
Overall it was a pretty relaxing day in preparation for our long drive to Nuevo Arenal tomorrow.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 1 & 2 - Travel

They say that travel is about the journey, not the destination but these days it is really just about getting there. Luckily for us, aside from getting up waaaay too early, our travel day was relatively uneventful. We flew with Delta from Boston to Atlanta then on to San Jose, Costa Rica. We were met at the airport by Alex from Vamos rent a car and brought to their office to do some paperwork and even though this seemed a little disorganized and took longer than expected, we got our Suzuki Jimmy, a GPS and an emergency cell phone and were on our way.
Our first stop was not too far from the airport at Hotel Bougainvillea in Santo Domingo. Once checked-in we dropped off our things and headed out to find an ATM and some lunch. Why is it I can never figure out the currency conversion easily enough to know how many colones I want to get? Oh well, 50,000 should hold us for a little while, right? JSYK, that's right about $100.00, I think.
We find a little cafe and get a couple of sandwiches while trying to use and understand with my limited Spanish. I must have done ok because we ended up with a couple of ham and cheese croissant sandwiches which hit the spot.
Back at the hotel we are a bit tired but decide to walk the gardens on the back of the hotel and I'm glad we did. It's a huge area with walkways through some of the most strange and beautiful plants and flowers that I have seen. We also glimpsed some birds, hummingbirds and butterflies.
After a little relaxing, we head for dinner and then back to the room to catch the end of the Red Sox game 2 which didn't end in our favor. A funny thing, while we were laying there watching the game, we begin to hear this chirping...what the heck is that? Chirp.....chirp.....chirp, damn, it's the smoke detector which seems to have a dead battery. A quick call to the front desk and bellman/maintenance guy comes up and fixes it right up. I'm glad that happened then instead of the middle of the night!!!!
A decent night's sleep and we hit the shower and then down for some breakfast. While it was a quick stay in Santo Domingo, we are off to the Caribbean coast today and the town of Cahuita. It is about a four hour drive but we take our time (some to the roads require that you do) and enjoy the scenery through one of the many national parks here. As lunch nears, we spot a lady on the side of the road with a little warmer out keeping some empanadas and baked chicken warm. With a bit of talking and a lot of pointing we get a really good lunch that cost us about 4.00 US, that's 2,000 colones for those not keeping up.
Nice and full, we continue our way to Cahuita and the Playa Negra Guesthouse. We're greeted by Greg who shows us around, gets us to our room and makes arrangements for a snorkeling tour at the Cahuita National Park for tomorrow.
We settle in and then head to the beach. As the name of our accommodations suggest, we are at Black Beach and yes the sand is black, not an obvious black, but more of an underlying black but still noticeably black.
The whole area is distant and laid back and it is easy to quickly begin to relax.
For tonights dinner we walk a couple of blocks down to the Reggae Bar complete with reggae music, beer and locals smoking weed. I immediately think of my friend Selena here. Even better than the vibe was the food. Dave had a chicken with a anjillo sauce which was just a little spicy and I had the grilled snapper which was soooo good. There's something about getting a plate with a whole grilled fish on it that makes my mouth water, and this was no ordinary fish. It was grilled so well that the skin was just to die for and I don't know what they used to season it with but I'll have more please! So, a good dinner, a couple of beers and we head, back listen to the wild noises around us and head off to sleep as our day tomorrow will start a little early.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thinking of the future

So, my vacations don't always have a purpose, that is if you don't count just getting away a purpose, but this one does. Dave and I have been discussing a nice retirement somewhere where life is slow and in most cases easy.
OK, we're not really old enough to retire just yet but maybe if we do it right, we will be able to do so a bit earlier if we can find a place where our money will last. In researching such places, many Central American countries come into the picture. The only problem is that we've not been to any of these places so I started to check some of them out and that's how Costa Rica became a place we had to see. For what appears to be a small country there is so much to see and do. First, they have a Caribbean coast that seems to offer most of what we enjoy about all the nice Caribbean areas we have already visited. There is also the central area that has volcanoes, cloud forests and a lake that has rainbow bass (guapotes) which should keep Dave busy for a while. Then there is the Pacific coast that offers great beaches, small towns, and some decent snorkeling and fishing.
This was the first place in Central America where I found a decent airfare so it would be first CA country that we will visit. As usual, my planning skills seem to go out the window when it comes to picking my flights. I always think it's so good to be able to get somewhere early that I never stop to think what that really means. For example, I book a flight out of Boston at 6:00am which isn't too bad but the shuttle company has to pick us up at 2:00am to be able to guarantee our arrival at the airport on time and since it is a shared ride and I'm too cheap to pay for a private ride, I have to suck it up. The worst thing about my planning for this trip is that I didn't p,an for the Red Sox being in the world series and now I have to miss game 1 to get to bed and I'm not sure if we'll get to watch any of the other games but we'll just have to chance it at this point.
For now it's off to bed early in hopes of finding that one place that we may eventually call home.